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Thai army pulls back from protest clashes; 18 dead


BANGKOK — Savage clashes between protesters and Thai soldiers killed at least 18 people and injured hundreds before both sides retreated, no closer to ending a monthlong occupation of parts of the capital by demonstrators demanding new elections. Hopes were expressed for negotiations Sunday.

Bullet casings, rocks and pools of blood littered the streets where pitched battles raged for hours Saturday night. It was the worst violence in Bangkok since more than four dozen people were killed in an antimilitary protest in 1992.

Army troops pulled back and asked protesters to do the same, resulting in an unofficial truce, with the soldiers having failed to dislodge the “Red Shirt” demonstrators from their camps in the capital.

Five soldiers and 13 civilians, including a Japanese cameraman for the Thomson Reuters news agency, were killed, according to the government’s Erawan emergency center.

Editorials in Bangkok newspapers Sunday called for urgent talks between the government and so-called “Red Shirts” to end the violence, noting that some protest leaders were ready for negotiations.

The clashes erupted after security forces tried to push out demonstrators who have camped in parts of the capital for a month and staged disruptive protests demanding that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolve Parliament and call new elections.

The demonstrations are part of a long-running battle between the mostly poor and rural supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the ruling class that they say orchestrated the 2006 military coup that removed him from power amid corruption allegations.

The protesters, called “Red Shirts” for their garb, see the Oxford-educated Abhisit as a symbol of an elite impervious to the plight of Thailand’s poor. They claim he took office illegitimately in December 2008 after the military pressured Parliament to vote for him.

Saturday’s violence and failure to dislodge the protesters are likely to make it harder to end the political deadlock. Previously, both sides had exercised restraint.

Abhisit “failed miserably,” said Michael Nelson, a German scholar of Southeast Asian studies working in Bangkok.

The Houston Chronicle

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